Broadcast Networks Flail For Relevance

Fall slates of shows (and 17 cancellations) drop further and further behind the zeitgeist

Theoretically, it’s fantastic we have more television choices than ever before, but the myriad options and ways to watch renders traditional ratings meaningless, and the major broadcast networks can’t figure out how to stay relevant. With their recent upfronts, the corporate solution to plummeting viewership and rising costs was a brutal 17-show execution, followed by an optimistic unveiling of this fall’s hopeful contenders.

Historically, bottom-of-the-ratings champion The CW avoids cancelations in favor of completionist storytelling. In the past, iZombie, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and Jane the Virgin all benefited from the network’s devotion to fully-realized narratives over week-by-week numbers. Under this system, showrunners like Julie Plec attained godlike status, while DC superheroes fans felt secure shipping their favorite couples. Unexpectedly, The CW shook everyone by axing seven shows at once, which left viewers with unresolved finales and ample butthurt. Not a great way to reward their miniscule but devout fanbases.

Perhaps Gotham Knights will satisfy those with a superhero itch, as they toss yet another Batman show onto their lineup. Misha Collins, a favorite from the network’s 15-season wonder, Supernatural, plays Batman’s rebellious adopted son who makes friends with the adult children of Batman’s enemies to protect their city. To further entice those missing that old Supernatural charm, the network aims to scare up viewers with The Winchesters, the program absolutely no one asked for about Sam and Dean’s parents in the 1970s and 80s. Weirdly, the only other new offering is also Jared Padalecki-adjacent, as Walker spinoff Walker: Independence, targets the Yellowstone crowd. At least this one features a female, I guess.

Over at CBS, five shows were wiped out of existence. Ratings-steady Magnum P.I., the remake of that other Magnum P.I., with less mustache and fewer short shorts, was a surprise cancellation, though few noticed as middling medical drama Good Sam said goodbye. An anemic batch of sitcoms will whimper off into the night too, including The United States of Al, a Chuck Lorre production that only made it two seasons. If the demigod behind myriad unkillable hits can’t muster up ratings magic for a major network anymore, who can?

Replacement shows include Fire Country, about a convict returning home to fight off fires, and presumably, harsh judgements about his past.  Cop show East New York features a new police captain using creative methods to solve crimes while tackling the little things like her reluctant team, social upheaval, and gentrification. So Help Me Todd features a P.I. working for his overbearing single mother, while a True Lies reboot will likely inspire further conversations about the slow, sad death of television.

The Fox Network went conservative with its cancellations, shutting down only two scripted shows, Our Kind of People, and Pivoting. Though the former had weak ratings and even weaker reviews, Pivoting pulled a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, but obviously didn’t feature enough animation, C-list celebrities in weird costumes, or chef eliminations to justify its continued existence.

New cartoons on the block come in the form of executive producer/star Jon Hamm’s Grimsburg, and Dan Harmon’s Krapopolis, while Gordon Ramsay’s Food Stars will surely tell defeated cooks to go home for years to come. The Susan Sarandon-led Monarch will finally make it to air after a suspiciously long delay, while two crime dramas, Alert and Accused, reek so heavily of generic programming that they’re destined for audiences to ignore them.

MR. MAYOR, RIP

Over at the birthplace of must-see TV, we find an equally flummoxed NBC.  Though they have more shows in the top 20 than any other network for the 8th time in 9 years, the victory must feel hollow, as its senescent scripted offerings and reality franchises are unlikely to inspire the buzz, feels, and ongoing royalties of yesteryear.  An Emmy nomination wasn’t enough to keep Kenan on the air, nor was the network’s love affair with Ted Danson, who starred in the now-deceased Mr. Mayor.

Perhaps the greatest sign of NBC’s desire to recapture their glory days lies in its fall schedule. Quantum Leap, Night Court, and a night of comedy built on only 2 shows might convince waking coma patients think they’ve reality hopped. Friday night is the known dead-zone for all broadcast TV, so perhaps newbie Lopez vs. Lopez and returning Young Rock only need to muster up like, 10 viewers to succeed? At this point in broadcast history, anything truly is possible, in the very worst way.

Amidst all the bloodshed and turmoil, ABC valiantly moved forward  with its lineup largely intact, rescuing five of its shows on the bubble, while ending black-ish, Promised Land, and Queens to little outcry or fanfare. Weirdly, ABC seems most adept at juggling a diverse array of programming with broad appeal. They are equal opportunity dabblers with a surprisingly well-rounded slate of nostalgia bait, comedy, drama, procedural, and reality shows.

Having said that, ABC won’t set the world afire with its supposedly fresh fall slate. Neither Celebrity Jeopardy!, or the spin-off of ho-hum series The Rookie, creatively called The Rookie: Feds hint at novelty. David E. Kelley’s Not Dead Yet, starring Gina Rodriguez, is about a disaster of a woman trying to have it all while working at a newspaper. Strangely, the Hilary Swank-led Alaska is also about a woman leaving her high-profile life behind to work at a newspaper in Anchorage. That’s right, they’re rolling out two shows about women rebuilding their lives via journalism. In 2022. Sadly, this may completely sum up everything wrong with network TV, not just on ABC, but across the board.

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Paula Shaffer

Paula Shaffer cast and shaped storylines for several episodes of Love It Or List It. If you shop for a high-end home in North Carolina or plan an extravagant jaunt to Italy, her words may subtly sway your choices. In her spare time, she crams all possible media into her brain, and intermittently live tweets about “The Bachelor”.

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